Audio experts protest that the human ear can’t distinguish between original sounds and their digitized versions, such as a CD. If that’s so, how then have live performances remained the most stirring, the most immediate, and the most preferred way of hearing music? The West Coast Chamber Orchestra, choosing wisely to use the intimate Presidio Chapel to enhance the experience of the Bach and Vivaldi on its program, would disagree with the experts-its members know perfectly well that nothing can match the sound of live instruments.
Under the measured, mature direction of Christopher Story VI, the concert opened with the familiar strains of Bach’s Air on the G String. Larger orchestras sometimes veer away from pieces they may see as overplayed, so it can be a paradoxically rare pleasure to hear such a lovely piece of music live.
Story and his orchestra welcomed three guest performers, among them a violinist who has made a name for herself on the West Coast as a concertmaster. Tamsen Beseke drew sounds from her violin for which the only appropriate adjectives are those usually used to describe fine wine. Sweet, crisp, tart, full-bodied-her performance filled the Presidio Chapel. The Violin Concerto in A Minor alternates a bold orchestral sound with more delicate, almost whimsical solo passages, and Beseke tackled each of Bach’s changing moods with grace.
Story had one more surprise for the audience, handing his baton to his first cellist, Diego Miralles, to conduct the Fugue in G Minor. Although at times Miralles’s control of the orchestra lacked the perfect cohesion of Story’s, his choices were fresh and lively, with a quick tempo. The offering of two approaches to Bach combined into one concert was a pleasant surprise, and showed how much more the West Coast Chamber Orchestra has to offer.
The final proof of this came at the end of the concert with Vivaldi’s Double Cello Concerto in D Minor. The cello is already a powerful and resonant instrument. To hear two of them, side by side and in the hands of Miralles and guest artist Fang-Fang Xu, was a rare treat. The interplay was breathtaking, illustrating the power of a piece of music to become more than just the sum of its parts. Always the goal of any orchestra, this unity is nonetheless not always achieved. In this case, the entire orchestra can take a bow for an afternoon of real aesthetic success.